Level 2 Training Diary – Part 3

DSC01690The next morning, we were lucky enough to have Mark Light, the Deputy Race Director and Skipper of Derry-Londonderry, join us for the day. It was another dull, wet and very windy day but we were all looking forward to another day’s sailing and a chance to improve on our dismal man overboard performance off the day before.

You may have noticed in the photographs the orange safety lines that are clipped to our lifejackets most of the time, with the other end clipped to the jackstays (a taut webbing strap stretching the length of the deck) above certain boat or wind speeds, at night, or if we want to or are told to. By clipping onto these lines, we reduce the likelihood of falling overboard or being swept from one side of the deck to the other.  As you can see from this video taken when we were working on the foredeck in rough weather, the lines are not just there for show and do give you a certain level of confidence when you are in more exposed areas of the deck like the foredeck.

The downside to using the line is that it makes moving around on deck more difficult, especially if you are trying to get past a number of people who are clipped onto the jackstay ahead of you. During a man overboard incident, if you are the person who is spotting the person in the water and it is your sole duty to keep your eyes on them at all times, being clipped onto the boat makes this job nearly impossible without some extra help. Can you see where this is going yet?!

If we thought our drill from the previous day was abysmal, things were about to get a whole lot worse. Dobie was sent overboard and, being the person who saw Dobie going over, I  became the spotter.  This was fine for the first 20 seconds until I got my lifeline caught on something on the deck and I was stuck in one spot. Not long after, I lost sight of Dobie. To compound the problem, none of the extra gear had gone overboard to help us find the person in the water – there is a float with a flag that can be easier to spot in the water than the person, as long as it is thrown over the side. The end result… we lost Dobie.

Luckily enough for us, somebody had remembered to press the ‘Man Overboard’ button on the chart plotter when they had gone down below to turn the engine on, so we had a rough idea of where Dobie had gone overboard. The only thing we could do at this point was to start a search for Dobie using an expanding square search – after what felt like an eternity, but was probably only 20-30 minutes, Dobie was spotted in the water and finally brought back on board. If that had been a real person, they would have been in a very bad way.

The only positive we could take from the experience was that we did eventually find Dobie in the water – it was surprisingly hard to spot a bright orange and yellow ‘person’ floating in the sea with the waves and weather conditions we were experiencing. I also think those drills made us think a bit more about our own safety and that of our fellow crew members a bit more, just in time for our planned overnight sail the following day. So with Dobie back in position, secured to the rails on the stern of the boat, we headed into Cowes.

Level 2 Training Diary – Part 2

After the sea survival course, it was time to head over to Gosport Marina and meet up with our Skipper for the week, Juan Coetzer (Skipper of Geraldton Western Australia in the 11-12 Clipper Race). I would be sailing on CV9 Qingdao with 8 others who had decided, like me, that the end of January would be the perfect time of year to spend a week at sea in the Solent and English Channel. I think most of us had chosen January to do training so that we would have more chance of experiencing sailing in colder, rougher weather; the forecast for the week showed that we weren’t going to be disappointed.

After our gear was stowed in our bunks, it was time to get started on introductions, safety briefings and theory for the week as dinner was being cooked in the galley. The great thing about doing the sea survival course first was that we were already fairly relaxed with each other as a crew, having spent the day towing each other around the pool and huddled in a liferaft, so the jokes were already flying around. After a few hours, it was time to go and continue the crew bonding over a drink in the pub, but not before the skipper had told us that we would be starting at 6am the next morning… so fairly early nights all round then!

The following morning was taken up with safety, engine and deck checks, all of which had to be completed before we could set sail from the marina. Finally, it was time to head out to sea. The wind was being kind to us, so we only needed to put one reef in the mainsail. We spent the afternoon recapping the drills we had learned during our Level 1 training like tacking and gybing before returning to the marina for more theory.

The next morning we awoke bright and early – the boat had to be cleaned down below and rigged up on deck before we were going to have breakfast! Incentive enough to get things moving quickly! The wind had picked up overnight and was blowing 20 knots – it was going to make for a physically challenging day at sea, especially as the plan was to cover all we had learned during our level 1 training in a day.

We had an additional crew member on board, Dobie, who would be our Man Overboard dummy for the week. In Level 1, man overboard drills were carried with a fender; Dobie was going to make searching and recovery of a ‘person’ from the water a bit more realistic and he would be going over the side of the boat. At least one crew member wears a climbing harness whilst we are sailing so that if there is a man overboard, or Dobie overboard, that person can be lowered over the side of the boat to recover the casualty. There are many reasons you have to quickly learn to work as a team and trust each other as a crew – this is one of them.

After a full day of sailing, I was on the helm, helming a 68 foot yacht upwind in waves for the first time. I didn’t get much chance to helm these yachts during my level 1 training, due to my encounter with the ankle breaker, so I was savouring the experience. I also happened to be the person wearing the climbing harness. I think we all thought that we wouldn’t be carrying out a man overboard drill in the conditions we were sailing in – the wind had picked up to 30 knots and it was getting dark.This video was shot around this time.

How wrong were we! We were told afterwards that as these were the sort of conditions when people ususally fall overboard, it was good experience to practise recovering them in the same conditions. At least I had had a bit of notice about the drill, when it was suggested that I pass the harness onto another crew member. It wasn’t worth risking damaging my ankle this early in the week, so I agreed and stayed on the helm, and Dobie was sent over the side.

To say our man overboard (mob) drill left a lot of room for improvement was an understatement. In the fading light, it was difficult to keep track of the person in the water, even though there was a light attached to the dummy and we managed to send the buoy with the flag over the side relatively close to Dobie. We temporarily lost sight of the mob but managed to find the flag and therefore the dummy nearby after about 20 minutes. The person who recovered Dobie was lowered slightly too far into the water, so much so that their lifejacket had automatically inflated. It was a sobering experience, especially with Dobie being so lifelike. It certainly brought home the reality of the situation to us all – being overboard in any sort of weather was not somewhere that we would want to be.

Level 2 Training Log

CV9 Qingdao Clipper Yacht Weymouth Harbour

Yacht ‘CV9′ Qingdao Clipper 68 foot Cutter Rig Sloop

Wind Max F9

317 Nautical Miles (Tidal)

8 days on board

9 night hours

Gosport – Solent (Training) – Cowes – Weymouth – Cowes – Gosport

Many reefs in, not so many reefs out, racing head sail changes, realistic man overboard drills with a life size dummy, one mast climb

A few equipment breakages, cold weather gear fully tested

Sea state – bumpy, bouncy, splishy and splashy

Weather – a bit gnarly

One encounter with a lobster pot; unfortunately no lobster for dinner

Not as many cups of tea; no doughnuts. Chocolate, wine gums, turron and Dutch cake consumed instead

Fantastic crew, shared hard work and many laughs.

All limbs intact; countless bruises, scrapes and broken nails.

RYA Sea Survival and Level 2 Clipper training certificates achieved.

26th January – 3rd February 2013


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